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The New Cool: You're invited to a modern jazz Dinner Party

Photo by Abe Beeson
The Dinner Party album, now available for take-out. (clockwise from top left: Terrace Martin, Robert Glasper, 9th Wonder, Kamasi Washington)

Saxophonist Kamasi Washington, keys player/producer Robert Glasper, multi-instrumentalist/producer Terrace Martin and DJ/producer 9th Wonder (Patrick Douthit) comrpise the all-star lineup known as Dinner Party. Their self-titled album was released digitally in July, but with the recent vinyl issue a couple weeks ago, fans can finally take this Dinner Party home.

No player is at the "head of the table," rather it's a casual gathering of friends — with prodigious musical talent. Jazz may be their primary shared strength, but Dinner Party serves up a largely hip-hop flavored banquet. And at a running time of just 23 minutes, you may go back for seconds.

The rap edges to the band make sense, as Martin, Glasper and Washington all worked on the acclaimed album To Pimp a Butterfly from rapper Kendrick Lamar in 2015. Then, Martin's Sounds of Crenshaw, Vol. 1 release brought these three back together in 2017.

The Glasper-Martin connection actually dates back to their youthful meeting in a mid-90s jazz camp. This band is a continuation of music honoring their early dual loves of jazz and hip-hop. This new group evolved from touring together in the R+R=Now project, and was intentionally anchored to the hip-hop side of their personalities.

With North Carolina native 9th Wonder adding production chops he developed with Jay-Z, Destiny's Child, Drake and others, Dinner Party is likely to find most fans in the world of modern R&B. Careful listens may, however, lead these younger music fans to discover jazz.

That's an exciting side effect of Dinner Party. Young pop music fans will learn the names of these modern jazz greats, and will inevitably search out their music as well.

Most songs feature soulful young singer Phoelix, whose voice is in the mix both up front and in more subtle production. His is a smooth, velvety delivery, blending with thick electric keys and laid back beats. Dinner Party was recorded in Los Angeles, and it has that easygoing, beach-adjacent vibe throughout.

The lyrics, co-written by all the group members, range from political ("Freeze Tag") to romantic ("Love You Bad"). This potent combination of jazz, soul and hip-hop styles can be difficult to manage, and the Dinner Party gang manages to find a consistant, mellow, familial musical concept.

Most interesting for jazz fans, I think, is the instrumental tune "First Responders." Soulful, mid-tempo rhythm sparkles with electronic melodies at the outset. Washington's saxophone bubbles to the surface, relaxed and confident, but just tempting us with short riffs at first.

Credit Animation by Juppi Juppsen
The animated Dinner Party quartet from the Dessert remixes videos by Juppi Juppsen.

The tenor man gradually moves to center stage, picking up his tempo, but never overblowing. As I've written before, that's the classic Kamasi Washington modus operandi. To my ears, this relaxed atmosphere is the main course of the Dinner Party. Though a song finishing under five minutes certainly isn't classic Kamasi. In fact, there's plenty of room left to explore the sizeable Dessert follow-up album of remixes.

You'll hear "First Responders" from the Dinner Party all-stars in our full-meal mix on the New Cool Saturday afternoon. Also on the menu are the Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio, who will stream live from Nectar Lounge a few hours after we wrap up the show that night.

In other live-in-your-home news this weekend, trumpeter Ahamefule J. Oluo, the Earshot Jazz Festival's resident artist, presents a House Party festival finale Sunday night. It's a never-before-seen-or-heard 2016 performance of Seattle's now-defunct Industrial Revelation, free for registered home viewers. You'll hear Aham, Josh Rawlings, Evan Flory-Barnes and D'Vonne Lewis in this iconic Seattle quartet on Saturday's show too.

With your modern jazz appetite now whetted, enjoy an autumn jazz cornicopia on 88.5 FM, KNKX.

The New Cool airs Saturdays from 3 to 5 p.m., hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle.

Abe grew up in Western Washington, a 3rd generation Seattle/Tacoma kid. It was as a student at Pacific Lutheran University that Abe landed his first job at KNKX, editing and producing audio for news stories. It was a Christmas Day shift no one else wanted that gave Abe his first on-air experience which led to overnights, then Saturday afternoons, and started hosting Evening Jazz in 1998.
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